Interview: David Banner Almost Gave Up On Life & Music Before He Created 'The God Box'
The artist explains how The God Box saved his career in music and, most importantly, his life.
God is great for an array of reasons but for David Banner, he/she/it is more of a life coach than just any another muse.
Throughout the 2000s, Banner always came off as an aggressive MC and expert beat maker who can make a hit record with just one finger. Since releasing his debut solo album Them Firewater Boyz Vol 1, the “Like A Pimp” creator didn’t seem to have trouble churning out memorable albums like Certified in 2005, The Greatest Story Ever Told in 2008, and Death Of A Pop Star alongside the likes of the late Pimp C and the legendary 9th Wonder. After establishing his career in film in 2010, Banner attempted to set the bar higher for his music career by dropping off his mixtape Sex, Drugs, & Video Games back in 2012. With Chris Brown, A$AP Rocky, Bun B, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and more on the tracklist, one would think that he would be overjoyed at the outcome of his independent project.
Banner admits he was deeply depressed while recording the mixtape. So much so that even his doctor once told him that his soul would die if he didn’t make any changes in his life. Not only did he discover meditation, but he also found and made peace with God. He began to use his voice for more than just spitting gritty rhymes about social injustice. He became an advocate for humanity. Along with ridding himself of the drugs and his other sins, the “Get Like Me” rapper decided to make an ultimate change to his life.
Without making any kind of social media announcement or press release, Banner lowkey quit the rap game. In fact, he wiped out his entire library of music. Every song, reference track, and beat he ever made was sent to the trashcan. Naturally, he freaked out as any musician who loses their entire catalog would, but instead, he started fresh and started his career in music from scratch, which is how the The God Box came to be.
“It didn’t come from an angry perspective,” Banner told VIBE. “Of course I’m an alpha male and well over 6 feet tall. I don’t take nobody’s shit so people are taking it as aggressive because I’m a grown ass man who’s not a comedian. But it doesn’t come from an angry place; it comes from a factual place.”
Instead of being enclosed in his office walls, Banner wandered around the great outdoors and spoke with us about how he turned his life around during his unofficial hiatus, how he got the idea of The God Box, why he decided to turn the album into an art exhibit and more.
It's been 7 years since your last album with 9th wonder and at least 5 since your Sex, Drugs and Video Games mixtape. Given the completely opposite tones of each album, what did you go through within those 5-7 years that lead up to the creation of The God Box?
I went through two severe depressions. I think that those were really the major changes in my life. You know ups and downs just in life in general. To totally be free of any major corporation except my multimedia company. I have clients but I’m not ruled by anybody.
That’s why you chose to release the album independently?
100%. You know a lot of people say that they're independent but still get an advance. You understand what I’m saying? There’s a level of freedom but there's also a level of confidence and self-esteem that a person must have because so many people say that they love hip-hop but not a lot of people will put money into it. I dumped over $100,000 into the album me and 9th Wonder did. I dumped well over six figures into this album trying to do something different. Those 7 years I took off gave me an opportunity to get my heart broken, to go through shit, to accomplish and be able to say I did all the music at the World Cup for Gatorade. I’ve been very, very, very, VERY high up and some pretty major lows. This is almost like a first album especially nowadays when people will put their whole life on they first album. They may have topics that have wide ranges as they pertain to the subject matter but people can feel when it's artificially inseminated. I had an opportunity to live.
When was the moment that made you want to pull yourself out of your depression?
I think it was when my doctor in Mississippi told me ‘David Banner, I’m not a holistic doctor, but I can look into your eyes and tell that your soul is dying.’ I went to the doctor feeling like I was dying. I took like a thousand dollars worth of tests and the only thing that came back was my cholesterol was slightly high. She told me that if I don’t change something about my life that I’m going to die. My spirit was gone. That’s when I said at this point in my career, it’s about doing the things that make me feel good like fighting for my people or fighting for melanated or African people who are being treated the same all over the world. Dark-skinned people all over the world are being treated the same and have historically been treated the same. So if I have an opportunity to shed some light on that and help people to at least consider what is going on not just in American but globally. There’s nothing in the world that feels better than helping people, bro. There are so many people that told me this album brought them light. There are people telling me they are meditating to the outro of my album.
I can tell why. What kind of place were you in when you decided you wanted to include that as the outro? No other rapper does that.
Well, I do transcendental meditation. I meditate two times a day or at least I try to. It changed my whole entire life. If there’s anything or any gift that I could give to the world, it would be transcendental meditation. What’s funny is that was supposed to be the intro. What I realized was that #1 the things she’s saying, it would take people to have gone through the entire journey of the album to really respect it. If they had gotten that, all in the beginning, they would’ve been like, “WTF is this shit?” But when they had an opportunity to go through the whole journey and then they’ll understand what she’s talking about. So I moved the intro to be the outro and it made so much more sense.
I wanted to take people to another place with this album even though it’s deeply centered in the world that’s going on today, especially musically. I’m being honest with you, bro, every fucking beat, every lyric on this album, we combed through it with a fine-tuned comb and made sure there wasn't any wack shit on it. We really went through this album so that if people denied me this time, it’s because they just don’t like it. They can’t say its wack. They can’t say it ain’t jamming.
The God Box comes off like a soundtrack to a full-length feature film thanks to endings like "My Uzi." What inspired you to do that?
On “My Uzi,” that was a real composition at the end. John Debney who did Iron Man 2 and the Passion of the Christ actually made that composition. That’s not a sample. I’ve always wanted to do that. People don’t understand that I score movies, video games and commercials myself. I know that a lot of my beats are space-aged. People tell me that all the time so I wanted to make the closest thing to what people think a David Banner beat used to be and I think “My Uzi” is the closest thing to a stereotypical David Banner beat. Then there’s UGK on the hook so it went deep off in the hood. I got Big K.R.I.T on that bitch so it’s 10x south because its Mississippi, Mississippi, and Texas. Oh shit! And just when people thought this was as hood as we can get, we took em to never, Neverland. I wanted to take people somewhere else to gain their trust, and that’s the blessing of being a musician. Even if it was only in a dream or a song, I just wanted to take our people back or take our people somewhere that they’ve never been before.
Speaking of which, in "Amy" you layout your view on the n-word yet the word still manages to pop up elsewhere on the album from other artists like Cee-Lo Green in "Magnolia." How did that make you feel? Do you think hip-hop will ever stop using the word?
This is what I’ll say. You have to look at the context in which Cee-Lo used it. When he used it, Cee-Lo was saying that although this man felt like just because he married a white woman and just because he had a white man’s job that they still look at him as just being a n*gga. I don’t have a problem with the word. I have a problem with the word “n*gga” being used as a blanket term to describe my people. A “nigger” is someone who is ignorant. Anybody could be a “nigger” and the sad part is we have accepted it. See I believe that the most high, God, whatever you may call he she or it, gave us the similar power as the Almighty has and that means that you are what you think. I read a book called As A Man Thinking by James Allen. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) there were two men and one thought he was nothing while the other thought he was everything, and they both were right. So if you say you're a n*gga and think you're a n*gga, then you are a n*gga. If you say you're a god and know how to be a god and act accordingly, then you are. Because you’re made out of the same matter as the Most High is. God is infinitely everything so what I’m saying is we have to consider what we say.
Once you decided to get back into the game, how exactly did you get the title The God Box?
The meaning for The God Box actually grew from me naming the hard drive when I first started recording it. I couldn’t figure out what I was going to call it. I don’t know why I put so much thought into such a small thing but I was like “yo what could I call the hard drive?” Then I was like “I’m going to call it "The God Box." As I started recording and learning more, it started making sense. I was like ‘Yo this is directly correlated with my life.’ To be honest with you, when I found out where God was my life became so much easier. The panic in my life slowed down. I believe that if people study the cover of my album and they really listen to the album I think they will find out what it took me all of these years to learn. Maybe they can learn it in a 50-minute sitting.
That’s deep man. It’s crazy how everything snowballed into such an expressive album over the years. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s your greatest masterpieces thus far.
Oh yeah! But I want to show you something that’s really funny. People are so fu**ing surprised that I made this level of an album but what I don’t understand is that people act like you’re supposed to get dumber the more you record or as you get older. I fu**ing study. I fu**ing practice. What’s crazy is I’ve always been getting better. I don’t give a fu** what nobody say. When I dropped Sex, Drugs, and Video Games that shit was so--- I was in my depression when I recorded it. After I got done with that album, I erased my whole hard drive with all of my music because I said I didn’t want to do that kind of music anymore.
I was freaking out a little bit like I wished I hadn’t erased it but I always looked at it like this. I’ve been growing. I believe that every album I’ve been growing. It’s just that in a lot of cases, people don’t want to admit this sometimes, it’s not that the artists isn’t jamming but sometimes you just don’t understand. Maybe it wasn’t that my raps were wack maybe it’s because they went over your fucking head. Maybe you’re the person who’s got the problem. And because we’re from the south, if there’s 808’s and there’s a southern drawl, people stop listening. I was drunk, high, and depressed but I’ve always been a writer.
I just want to thank everybody for allowing me to grow. There’s not too many artists that the general public allows to grow. They grow with them. So if I don’t beat on my chest, ain’t nobody going to listen because most people are afraid. What they’ll tell me is ‘David Banner this is your best album ever.’ Nah this is one of the best albums ever out of anybody. If I don’t say it, I know they not going to say it. That’s one of the reasons why I really appreciate Charlamagne. I don’t know why that man has been going so hard for me. He went on Joe Budden’s show and said, "David Banner has one of the best albums in recent history period out of everybody." He didn’t have to say that so I left my house and went to the bookstore and bought every book that was in that motherfucker! Also, I want people to get the physical copy because a lot of people don’t know that this album is an art exhibit too.
There’s definitely a lot that went into the physical copy. Explain how you pieced all of that together.
Well, it was because of a young man named Manzel Bowman. This dude is so ill. I don’t know what he’s smoking or if his ancestors blessed him. He’s sort of like afro-futurism. He gets African history and the space-aged future and I don’t know man. He just puts it all together in something that the kids can love because he’s a millennial. He puts all of this together and it’s fucking amazing. He sent me a couple of things and then he did the cover for me. I was like ‘yo what if we do a physical representation for every song on the album?” He was like, 'Bet.' I paid him and he did it and I decided to turn it into an art exhibit and hopefully soon I'll turn it into a coffee table book.
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I was hoping for at least one blatant shot at President Trump on the album, but I didn’t catch any. Any thoughts on "Agent Orange?"
This album was recorded before Trump became president. There were only a few songs. “Magnolia” and “Who Want It” and “Cleopatra Jones” were the only songs that were recorded after Trump. The truth is Trump isn’t a big problem to me. People of color are complaining about Trump, but America has always been racist. I’m actually grateful that he’s exposing it and giving liberal white people less of an excuse to say that America is post-racial. Shit didn't happen for black people when Obama was president and shit didn’t happen for black people when Trump was president. To me, Trump isn’t even worth a conversation. I think if anything he taught black people that shit ain’t going to happen unless we do it for ourselves. It’s just a game man. I refuse to play into it. I want our people to own something.